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Possible goodbyes for the Cardinals after this week

We can finally put this season out if its misery on Sunday. But we may be saying goodbye to several key Cardinals after the game. Let’s see who they are.

Syndication: Arizona Republic
DeAndre Hopkins had just 1 catch for 4 yards against the Buccaneers. Could that be the last time he took the field for the Redbirds?
Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

The miserable 2023 Arizona Cardinals season mercifully comes to an end this weekend in San Francisco. It will undoubtedly be the final game for a number of Cardinals—some for the better, some for the worse, and some in between. Today, let’s take a quick look at who we could possibly be saying goodbye to after Sunday.

The JAGs

No, I’m not talking about the Jacksonville Jaguars, who could actually be headed to the playoffs, unlike the Cardinals. Instead, I’m talking about the Just a Guys. The special teams gunners and coverage guys, the third stringers, the practice squad guys who might well be back on the squad next season. You can find the whole list of our impending free agents on Spotrac or elsewhere. Highlights include Chris Banjo, Michael Dogbe, Antonio Hamilton, Ben Niemann, Ezekiel Turner, Tanner Vallejo, Charles Washington, and Antoine Wesley. You can probably count Robbie Anderson as a JAG as well—he’s not technically a free agent, but we can cut him after June 1 for a negligible cap hit.

Special Teamers

Yep, our three main special teamers—K Matt Prater, P Andy Lee, and LS Aaron Brewer—are all UFAs. Special teams were definitely not the problem in 2022 (we finished a solid 19th in special teams DVOA), but they weren’t exactly the solution either. You have to wonder if any of these guys will be back. Lee (40 years old) and Prater (38) might decide to retire, and Brewer is replaceable. It’ll depend on who is in charge (see below), but it might make more sense to go with younger, cheaper options in what figures to be a rebuilding/retooling year.

Almost the Entire O-Line

Here’s a fun stat: O-linemen under contract for 2023 totaled 18 starts (8 each for D.J. Humphries and Josh Jones, plus 2 for Lecitus Smith). Compare that to 64(!) starts on the O-line from impending free agents. Yikes. Here’s the list with the number of starts they made:

  • Kelvin Beachum (16)
  • Will Hernandez (12)
  • Billy Price (10)
  • Max Garcia (6)
  • Justin Pugh (5)
  • Rodney Hudson (4)
  • Sean Harlow (3)
  • Cody Ford (3)
  • Rashaad Coward (3)

Most of these guys have no business starting that many games, but Beachum and Hernandez are capable starters, and Pugh was a team leader when healthy. Hudson unfortunately never really worked out here in the desert. He and Beachum might retire. Whatever happens, almost the entire line needs to be rebuilt in the offseason. That’s a tall task.

J.J. Watt

Speaking of retiring, we know for sure that future Hall of Fame defensive end Watt will be playing his final game on Sunday. He unfortunately didn’t have a huge impact in his first year as a Cardinal, but he returned to form quite nicely this year, playing in 15 games so far and racking up 23 QB hits, 10.5 sacks, 15 TFLs, along with 1 fumble forced and recovered. Plus 6 pass defenses for good measure. It’s a shame such a fine last season was wasted on this atrocious team, but he can leave the game with his head held high knowing he gave it his all one last time.

Zach Allen

The blow of losing Watt might have been softened if we knew we could have the starter across from him back. But Zach Allen (who has been injured for a few weeks and may not even play) is a UFA, so we might be rebuilding both lines. Great. Allen was having a very nice fourth season with 47 tackles (10 TFLs), 19 QB hits, 5.5 sacks, and 8 passes defended. This is the kind of player the team needs to bring back. We simply can’t have another Haason Reddick situation on our hands.

Byron Murphy

Even more important than bringing back Allen is bringing back his draftmate Murphy, who flashed real CB1 potential this season before he went on IR. He’s at worse a high-end CB2, and those just don’t grow on trees. You have to wonder if the brass should have focused on resigning Allen and Murphy this past offseason instead of Kyler Murray. Resigning Murphy has to be priority #1 of our own free agents this offseason.

DeAndre Hopkins

The DeAndre Hopkins contract situation might be THE under-the-radar offseason storyline for the Cardinals. He had a manageable cap hit of $15.7M this season, but that figure balloons to about $31M next year. He proved he’s still an alpha WR1 this season, but that cap hit just isn’t tenable as he heads into his age-31 season. There are several options here, including extending him again to reduce that cap number… but will he really be worth tens of millions of dollars in a few seasons when he’s in his mid-30s? Or we could decide to trade him—a contender might pony up a few nice draft picks for him, which we might have to consider given the uncertainty around the franchise heading into 2023.

Kliff Kingsbury

The ongoing Kliff Kingsbury saga is well documented. Will Michael Bidwill fire him just a year after signing him to a 5-year extension? Will he resign, dissatisfied with his relationship with Bidwill and GM Steve Keim? Or… will nothing happen and he returns in 2023? At this point, most fans (and even some players, it seems like) want Kliff gone. But none of those opinions matter compared to Bidwill. How will he view his head coach after this disastrous likely 4-13 season?

Steve Keim

He’ll have to ask the same question about his general manager, who has been on an unspecified medical leave since the middle of December. Like Kliff, Keim has been under the microscope in recent years given his history of draft pick misses, free agency whiffs, roster construction issues, his DUI arrest, and his relationships with Bidwill and, now, Kliff. The timing of his medical leave certainly gives the impression that his tenure as GM is coming to an end soon, but you never know with his good buddy Bidwill. At this point, I’d be more surprised if he came back than Kliff—but we may be saying goodbye to both after Sunday. That leaves us with one final Cardinal we will hopefully be saying adios to…

A.J. Green

Keim inexplicably resigned Green to a 1 year/$3.5M contract last offseason. That resulted in…21 receptions for 145 yards and 1 TD across 14 games (9 starts). That’s about $167k per reception. If that isn’t the straw that broke the Keim-el’s back, I don’t know what would be. Good riddance to them both.